BRISTOL, Tenn. — Samuel Cooke doesn’t have dental insurance, so when Healing Hands Health Center in Bristol offered free dental care to veterans Friday, he drove from his home in Johnson City to have his teeth cleaned, get an X-ray and have a tooth filled.
Cooke, 53, was one of about 100 people treated at Healing Hands Health Center’s fourth annual free dental day for veterans, where no-cost services also included exams and extractions.
Several community groups also offered resources and veterans could take a seat outside the center’s entrance for a free haircut, courtesy of Exalt Academy of Cosmetology and Pam’s Custom Hair.
Friday’s turnout was the largest for the annual veterans’ event so far, said Helen Scott, executive director of Healing Hands Health Center.
The clinic was abuzz with staff, volunteers and veterans Friday morning. East Tennessee State University dental students cleaned teeth and volunteer dentists from the community, a staff dentist and University of Tennessee dental students from Memphis worked with patients.
“It’s grown — we’ve gotten a little more financial support, community support, volunteers,” Scott said.
The clinic also invited veterans to sign up to become future patients.
“Not only did we want to show appreciation to the veterans for what they do, but a huge part of this is to let the veterans and the public know that we are here year-round, we are here Monday through Friday,” Scott said.
Healing Hands offers low-cost treatment to people who are uninsured and have a total household income of 250% or less of federal poverty guidelines. Those numbers change each year, but currently, a single-person household could qualify on an income of $31,225 or less and a family of four could be eligible if its total income did not exceed $64,375.
As he received a haircut Friday, Keith Duncan, a 52-year-old Army veteran from Johnson City, said he thought the free dental event was important in providing services for veterans who may not live near Johnson City, where the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs operates the James H. Quillen VA Medical Center.
Friday’s event was also an opportunity to express gratitude to the people and organizations supporting veterans, like dentists who could have made money during the time they spent volunteering, Cooke said.
“We should be thanking the civilians, too, because of what they give back to us,” Cooke said. “That’s very important to me — they say ‘thank you’ for our services always, [and] I always say ‘thank you for your service’ because it’s a hand-in-hand thing.”
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